Saturday, August 30, 2014

Charity - 12th Sunday post Pentecost (EF)

This homily was given at Old St. John Church in Silver Spring, MD.

The Good Samaritan

Charity is one of the many virtues that our Lord preached upon in His life, and the Gospel for our Mass today is, as it were, the pinnacle of that preaching.  For in expounding the parable of the Good Samaritan to the lawyer, Christ present not only the ultimate definition of human charity, but also gives witness to the divine charity which stands as the model for human charity.  Indeed, this parable is a summary of the history of salvation and the triumph of Christ in restoring man to God.  Let us then go out to the deep and plumb the depths of these sacred words.
The parable opens with a certain man descending from Jerusalem to Jericho.  The man is seen to represent all of humanity in the parable.  Jerusalem, whose name signifies the city of peace, represents the tranquility of Eden at the beginning of creation.  The real-life description of the descent from lofty Jerusalem to lowly Jericho represents the descent of man from the garden into the world.  But this downfall was not done by man alone, for on the road the man encounters robbers.  Who else can these robbers be but the devil and his demons who strove and continue to strive against God in deforming man?  The demon robbers stripe man of his original glory and wound him with the wound of concupiscence and leave man half-dead, forced to deal with the reality of death and sin.
Along comes the priest, who stands for the Law imposed upon Israel on Mount Sinai.  What does the Law do for man?  In the end nothing, for the Law is not meant to be the summation of life.  Saint Paul points this out to us in the epistle of our Mass when he says that he has been made the minister of the new testament, the testament written not in letters as was the Law, but infused by the spirit of grace of God.  The Apostle shows us that the letter of the Law kills, or more appropriately, does not bring life, while the spirit of grace brings life to man.  But Christ desires especially to demonstrate to the lawyer to whom He declares this parable how the Law alone is not capable of bringing life to man.  And so the priest passes along.
Along then comes the Levite, representing the prophets who came after the imposition of the Law.  These are the ones who pointed out the sins of Israel and her people, calling them back to God through right living and right worship.  Yet again, though, the prophets are not the be-all and end-all.  The beginning of our Gospel today highlights this when Christ tells His disciples that the prophets themselves desired to see the day of Christ but did not see it in their own time.  All of the prophets point towards the coming of the one who will truly bring the promise of God to fulfillment.  And so the Levite passes along.
The last one to come to the wounded and half-dead man is the Samaritan.  We must first recognize the significance of this title to the Jews of the time of Christ.  A Samaritan was one who followed only the teachings of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  They were seen as impostors in the eyes of the Jews, as those not open to the fullness of truth, as perhaps Catholics have labelled Protestants in years past.  So we must realize the jarring reality of hearing good things said about a Samaritan before first century Jews, and how this would have really opened the eyes of the people to what our Lord desired to tell them.
It is quite obvious by now that the Good Samaritan represents Christ our Lord and His work whilst dwelling here on earth.  Hear what the Samaritan does: He comes near to the wounded man, just as Christ comes near to us by becoming incarnate.  He has compassion on the half-dead man, just as God has compassion on his half-dead people.  He covers the wounds so that they may heal, just as Christ is covered in the punishment due to humanity so that we may be healed.  He pours upon the wounds sweet-smelling oil and reviving wine to aid in healing, just as Christ gives us the oil of absolution and vivification through Holy Communion.
Having done what he can to help the wounded man, the Samaritan places him on his beast and brings him to the inn.  Likewise, Christ picks up humanity, wounded in sin, makes us members of His Body so as to carry us, and brings us into the comfort of Holy Mother Church, where humanity can find its rest and relief from the burden of sin and error.  The Samaritan entrusts the wounded to the innkeeper, giving him pay and promising more to come when he returns.  Christ entrusts souls to His Apostles and their successors and coworkers along with promising them that, when He returns in glory, He shall repay them whatever they have given of themselves.
How magnificent is the charity of God!  How wondrous is this great work done by God in preparing the way to reconcile the world to Himself!  Indeed, how great should be our thanksgiving to God for this tremendous gift which He has given freely of Himself.  All of this God has done to restore us to that glory which we first possessed at our creation and to prepare ourselves for that final and overawing glory which awaits the faithful at the end of the age.  This is what Saint Paul marvels at with the conclusion of today’s Epistle.  If even the old Law could bring glory, though it did not bring life, how much more will the new and eternal spirit of grace bring glory to man?
Yet we cannot merely marvel at the works of God, we cannot just appreciate what has been done for us.  We must follow in that example in our own lives.  Why did Christ give us this parable?  Because the lawyer had asked a question: Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?  The lawyer was confident that merely being a right-minded Jew was enough.  But the heavenly Master seeks to open his heart and ours by showing the summation of the Law and how it will be perfected in Christ.  It is the same with us.  We cannot presume to enter into Heaven because we are Catholics, or even faithful Catholics: we must imitate the divine charity in our lives.
Our lives must exhibit the two great commandments and draw others to desire to know the great Lawgiver and Redeemer who has inspired us to live in such a way.  Certainly, we must love God completely because it is right and just to do so.  We must seek to honor Him through prayer and worship, we must seek to draw nearer to Him, to plunge into the depths of divine intimacy as have done all the saints before us.  But we must also recognize and serve our neighbors as ourselves: as fellow human beings who share the same wounds and need to be healed of those wounds through the mercy and grace of God as found in His Church.

Let us then turn in confidence to God in all our needs so that we may receive His gifts and return them to Him in turn.  Let us cry out the words of our Introit: God come to my assistance! Lord, make haste to help me! Let us trust that our Good Samaritan is near to us, carrying us with Him through thick and thin, through all dangers and perils, in the safety of His Church.  Let us seek to live our lives driven by these two great commandments of total love of God and of neighbor so as to spread the kingdom of Heaven among us.  And let us seek from God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary the gifts and graces to respond to our own call to imitate the Good Samaritan in bringing healing to this broken world, and the promise of future glory in the never-ending world to come.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Humility and Healing - 11th Sunday post Pentecost (EF)

Homily for Old Saint John Church, Silver Spring, MD

Can one be healed if one does not wish it?  Can the soul that is adamantly obstinate in its deafness and dumbness truly be healed?  This is a question that arises from our Mass today, observing the sacred workings of our blessed Lord in demonstrating His divinity through healing the deaf and dumb man.  For certainly, that man presented to Christ wanted to be healed, wanted to be freed from this muteness in which he had lived for so many years.  Yet what about the soul that does not wished to be freed?  What if there is a person who does not wish to receive hearing and speech?
Certainly, we would be flabbergasted that one would not desire these most important senses.  We would question one, saying, “Do you not want to hear the sounds of nature rolling about us, the birds and the bees and the trees and the wind?  Would you not want to hear the magnificent works of the great composers; Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and many more?  Why would you not want to have a voice with which to cry, to laugh, to shout, to sing, to rejoice?”  We cannot comprehend the idea that anyone would not want to communicate with the outside world by hearing and speaking, yet we are witnessing a society that is committing this grave error right now in desiring not to hear and not to speak with God.
We are bystanders and witnesses to the great forgetfulness of modernity.  Western society has become deaf and dumb about God and to God.  It is a page pulled right out of 1984: Sin is proclaimed to be good and good is proclaimed to be evil in a masterstroke of doublespeak.  Christians are constantly declared bigots, Luddites, and hate-mongers whilst the immoral elite are seen as truly open to others, more concerned with the whole person and far more right in understanding the needs of humanity.  We have seen this plague of spiritual amnesia grow and spread within our country and perhaps even our families, so that we feel that we are at times the only people remaining with a firm head on our shoulders.
Is there any hope for the world?  Is there a possibility of conversion for our society, to save it in time before its self-destruction is completed?  Our Lord confirms this possibility for us: “With God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)  Yet how can this be brought about?  How can our society be healed of its moral deafness and willful silence concerning God?  It is the same solution as when Christianity spread through the Roman Empire and throughout the whole world: there must be souls who bear witness to the centrality of Christ in their lives and souls who proclaim the triumph of Christ over sin and death.
There cannot be a vibrant and healthy Christianity without souls whose very being seems to radiate with the joy of Christ as their King and their Lord.  But for this to happen, these souls must be humbled from their proud and erroneous ways.  This is the example of Saint Paul in our epistle.  The great Apostle to the Gentiles, in writing to the Corinthians, declares that he is the least of the Apostles because he should not be an apostle due to his persecution of the Church.  The Corinthians may not know the whole story, but we are privileged to know it in reading the Acts of the Apostles: how Saul stood by, holding the coats of the stoners of Saint Stephen; how Saul, zealous for the God of hosts, rounded up Christians and sent them to the high council to be punished even with death; how he even obtained permission to go out to Damascus to pursue the Church of God there and destroy it.  Yet we are privy to the rest of the story: Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, his encounter with the risen Christ whom he was persecuting, his healing at the hands of a disciple, and his mission to the Gentiles.
The witness of Saint Paul shows us that, no matter our past or even present circumstances, we too are able to formed into the holy witnesses of Christ our crucified and resurrected King.  God is not a respecter of persons, but chooses those whom He wills to be His witnesses and His holy souls.  In this we must bow before the majesty of God and humble ourselves that He has chosen us to be with Him here and now, to adore Him in the most Holy Sacrifice, and to be nourished by His Son, by the Lord who has charge over both body and soul.  But if we are to be His witnesses, if we are to be His holy souls, His saints, we must seek to be continually healed in our souls, and in this we should reflect upon the Gospel.
How is it that Christ heals the deaf and dumb man?  First, He removes the man from the crowd.  In this, the sacred commentators see that we must remove ourselves from the noise and the crowds of this world which drown out the voice of Christ speaking through His Church.  How can we hear Christ if our ears are not attuned to His voice?  Next, the Lord places His fingers in the ears of the man and spits upon the man’s tongue.  The commentators see in this the gifts of the Holy Spirit enlightening the soul so as to begin to hear and proclaim the Word.  Our Lord then groans in prayer to His Father, and utters a word still used in our liturgy today: Ephphetha, be opened.  At every baptism, the priest prays this divine command upon the recipient, beseeching God to open their ears and mouth so as to hear the Word of God and to proclaim it always upon their lips.
So it must be the same with us.  We must be separated from sin and all wickedness so as to hear Christ speak to us, to be more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  We must receive and bring to fruition the gifts of the Spirit so that our lives may reflect the triumph of Christ our King.  And we must be opened by the grace of God to be what we are meant to be: sinners mindful of our past, as was Saint Paul, yet hopeful that God’s grace will not be voided in us by our deafness or silence.  Our ears and our mouths must not be closed to God by sin but must be opened to proclaim His praise continually upon our lips.
Let us pray that we may be humbled as was Saint Paul so as to be true witnesses to the glory and the reign of Christ.  Let us be healed by the divine Physician so that our ears may hear and our lips may proclaim the Word.  Let us go forward and proclaim in all things our thanks to God for the victory won for us through Christ.  Let us serve God in His Church through obedience and humility, desiring to increase the kingdom through the conversion of souls and of society.  May our ears be opened and our lips be separated by Christ so as to hear Him, to praise Him, and to glorify Him in everything.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Audacity - 19th Sunday per annum (OF)

There echoes throughout all the elements of our Mass today a theme of audacity or boldness.  Consider the collect which we prayed at the beginning to prepare ourselves for this particular day: Almighty ever-living God, whom ... we dare to call our Father.  Another example which we hear quite regularly comes from the introduction to the Our Father: At the Savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say.  The readings for this Sunday also echo with the examples of holy and unholy audacity as a regular part of our spiritual life.  Let us dare to open the Scriptures and see where Christ is leading us.
In the Gospel story of the Lord walking on water, one sees an example of audacity in the actions of Saint Peter.  The disciples, upon seeing Christ walking towards them on the water, believe it is a ghost or a vision.  But our Lord calms their fear and assures them that it is really Him.  When Saint Peter beholds all this, he makes a very bold request.  He cries out to Christ: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Why does Peter dare to ask for this?  We must remember that it was Peter who was privileged with the divine insight into who Christ really is: God the Son become incarnate.  Perhaps he is desiring to be certain that it is truly his divine Master who stands amidst the thrashing waves.
Notice also what specifically Peter requests.  The great ancient commentators see in this question the audacity which emerges from true humility.  Peter is always next to Christ, ever serving Him, ever listening to Him.  Peter asks to be with Christ as he is wont to do on land so as to be at his natural position.  We should take from this how often we should boldly ask God to be with us in our endeavors.  If we can truly claim to call God our Father, then why would we ever be afraid to ask Him for our needs?  Do we feel that our needs are inadequate in talking with God?  Do we feel that we have no right to ask for anything because we are already blessed?  Or do we feel embarrassed petitioning God in prayer?
Brothers and sisters, we should never feel inadequate or embarrassed before God.  We should certainly feel humble, realizing our weakness in comparison to the almighty God, realizing our littleness compared to the ever-living God, but that should only makes us more audacious in making our needs and desires known to God.  God wants to help us be what He has created us to be: the adopted children of the heavenly Father, the new heirs to the magnificent inheritance promised from the very beginning of time.  Christ elsewhere encourages us to be bold in asking God for our needs when He tells us: “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7)  No matter the time, no matter the situation, no matter the feeling, we should never be afraid to pray and ask God for all that we need, both natural and supernatural gifts, so as to nearer to Christ and nearer to God.
Yet there is also a caution within this Gospel story about the limits of audacity.  Note that Peter, emboldened by the command of Christ, gets out of the boat and walks towards Christ for a while.  The great tossing of waves does not frighten him, but when he sees the strength of the wind, Peter begins to sink.  How often do we seem daring to do great things or believing ourselves capable of doing great things yet do we seem far less daring to take up the task of doing the little duties.  Holy audacity must not exist only for the great events of our life, but for every little moment also.  That is what the saints practiced: not being holy in one moment, but exhibiting in every moment possible the boldness to live their lives completely focused on Christ or on removing as much as possible whatever distracts them from Christ.  It is the same with us.
Most of us are not called to be great and famous nor are we called to do great things, but all of us are called to sanctify our lives by entrusting ourselves to the grace of Christ, the help of Christ, and by living Christ-centered lives which echo in all of our actions.  Peter exhibits this trait when he cries out to Christ to save him.  Even in his moment of weakness, Peter is emboldened to appeal to Christ to help him.  And Christ does so, certainly rebuking Peter for his lack of firm faith, but also showing us that we cannot rely on ourselves alone to succeed.  It is Christ who dares us to be holy, and it is in Christ that we must continue to find that holy audacity.
The Church herself also offers us a witness of this audacity throughout history.  Founded by Christ, maintained by Christ, she continually marches out into the world and proclaims for all the truths of salvation.  Undeterred by threats or compulsion, the Church continues the mission that Christ gave her: to go out and make disciples of all the nations.  The continual presence of the Church shows us what it means to be audacious without becoming arrogant.
In fact, there is a special class of saints who are held up for us as the ultimate examples of audacity: the martyrs past and present.  All the martyrs were given a choice: reject Christ, reject all His teachings and His authority, or face torture, imprisonment, exile, even death.  The martyrs, hanging on to the truth, remained bold in proclaiming that they would rather die than reject their Savior.  That is why the Church holds them up as some of the greatest saints of history.  That is why, whenever we pray the Roman Canon, we hear the Church enumerate so many holy martyrs, including the Apostles and the virgin martyrs who died for love of Christ.
And even today, we should be strengthened by the example of the Christians suffering in Iraq and the Middle East.  The Muslim oppressors even today threaten these Christians to either convert to Islam or pay the consequences.  Many of these people are fleeing their homes and even dying in the streets because they refuse to reject Christ, they refuse to reject their identity as a Christian, they refuse to reject their salvation.  Certainly, we must pray for them and seek to help them as best as we can, but we should also be inspired by their witness so as to be courageous in the face of all the challenges that await us here at home.  And make no mistake, we are being challenged similarly to the Christians half a world away with the world trying to force us to admit evil is good and to reject Christ as the only Savior of the world.

Let us then pray that we may have the boldness to live Christ-centered lives, lives which radiate the holy audacity of the saints in entrusting their every need to God and His loving kindness.  Let us dare to cry out to our heavenly Father to show us His mercy and to grant us our salvation.  Let us be like Saint Peter and cry out to Christ to command us to follow after Him no matter the cost and to strength us to do so.  Let us pray most fervently for all this, so that we may dare to merit, through God’s mercy and grace, the heavenly inheritance which awaits those bold enough to ask for it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Light and the Darkness - Transfiguration (EF)

This is my homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated this past Wednesday in the Extraordinary Form.

In reflecting upon the events of the feast we celebrate this evening, some biblical commentators have called this the temporary cessation of a miracle.  For, as they argue, if Christ is God, should not His divine glory radiate through His sacred humanity at every point of His life on earth? Yet the Gospels do not relate to us the viewing of this glory except upon Mount Thabor before the most trusted of the Apostles.  Why is it that Christ seems to hide Himself from the crowds and refrains from shining before man?
We must remember first that the heart of humanity remains dark from the consequences of the Fall.  The Most High God, up to this moment in history, had been working with countless people in bringing about the beginning of these last days in the life of Christ.  Beginning with Abraham, God had formed a people to be his firstborn upon the earth, the tribe from which the Savior would be born.  By calling Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and to the freedom of the Promised Land, God is highlighting the moral order necessary to live as one called to this peculiar relationship with Himself.  And by the voice of Elijah and the prophets, God calls these people to know Him completely, to love Him sincerely, and to serve Him without fail.
Yet darkness still reigns within the human heart, corrupted by the action of Adam and Eve.  Abraham knew of the smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah by God for their heinous sins of lust.  Moses was forced to intercede for the Israelites after they fashioned a golden calf for veneration, even as they beheld the hidden splendor of God dwelling on the top of Mount Sinai.  And Elijah witnessed the persecution of Jezebel and Ahaz as they tried to drive the voice of God away from His people.  Christ Himself in His earthly life saw the influence of Satan personally and through the progression of the Pharisees’ animosity against Him.
Indeed, it is the contrast of light and darkness which is most striking in this feast of the Transfiguration.  From of old, the Church has professed God to be “light, and in Him there is no darkness.”  There is nothing hidden or stained within God’s being.  His perfection, His infinitude, His simplicity are all so brilliant that they radiate with purity and clarity.  Indeed, every time we profess the Nicene Creed, as we shall do tonight, we declare Jesus Christ to be God in quite a few formulae, one of which is declaring that He is “light from light.”  When we conclude this Mass, and every celebration of the usus antiquior, we shall pray the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, one of the three earthly witnesses to the Transfiguration, who declared Christ the divine Word to be the bearer of divine light into the world, shining the torch of Truth and Life into the darkness of Falsehood and Death.
But the darkness still remains, the darkness cast upon the world through the work of Satan and the demons, desiring to corrupt all so that nothing of God will remain.  In fact, Satan works to bring about his own light as a means of fooling humanity into abandoning God and following the devils into the pits of hell.  It is not the light which so shines as to be impossible to behold, but it is the type of light which a fly pursues before it is burned.  And perhaps not so coincidentally, this day marks an anniversary of one of the greatest flashes of this false light seen in this world.  Almost 70 years ago today, the atomic bomb was dropped and detonated in war for the first time.
How striking is this juxtaposition of light between the Transfiguration and the bomb.  One is the light of divinity shining forth in union with humanity; the other is humanity striving to become as powerful as God.  One shows the unity of history as the past work of the Old Testament is brought to fruition in preparation for the inauguration of the New and Eternal Testament; the other is a sharp divide between the morality of the past and the carelessness and recklessness of the current age.  One draws the soul in awe and some terror towards the realization that there is a being greater than all of humanity who contains all power and glory within His very being; the other arouses terror and a little awe at the sheer power that one man can have at his fingertips over nearly the entire human race.  The one is centered upon the man who declared “I have not come to destroy souls but to save”; the other occasioned the quote “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
To which light will humanity turn: the true Light radiating from the King of the Universe, the King reigning from the Cross; or the false light which dazzles for a while but in the end kills all it touches?  Dear brothers and sisters, we must pray that we at least will choose to follow after the Light of Christ, that we will desire to pursue that Morning Star which never sets, that we will strive after the Light no matter how dark the times may be.  We must listen to Him so as to be continually converted from the temptations of the darkness and that we may imitate the saints in radiating the light of Christ in our own lives.  We must discover all which inhibits the light from shining through our works so that we may truly be the light-bearers that we promised to be at our baptism, when we received the light of the risen and triumphant Christ and were called upon to keep that light burning for His return.
Let us then adore Christ in His majesty and glory, God truly incarnate and become one of us.  Let us make a tabernacle for Him in our hearts that He may find rest within us and be our light in times of darkness. Let us receive Him worthily and fruitfully in the hidden glory of the Eucharist, so that His light may become our own light.  And let us never fail to seek His pardon for those times when we have succumbed to the darkness by receiving the illuminating wonder of His mercy at the absolution of the priest.  Finally, may we take up as our cry these words of Blessed John Henry Newman:

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home -
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene - one step enough for me.

May we be lead by that kindly Light to the glories of eternal life, where we shall share in the joys of that light for endless ages to come.